Navigating uncertainty

Geopolitical risk dashboard

October 2023 | A series of cascading crises is bringing significant uncertainty, volatility, and fragility to geopolitics and markets. War in the Middle East, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and U.S.-China tensions have accelerated geopolitical fragmentation.

BlackRock Geopolitical Risk Indicator

The global BlackRock Geopolitical Risk Indicator (BGRI) aims to capture overall market attention to geopolitical risks, as the line chart shows. The indicator is a simple average of our top-10 risks. The indicator sits at its highest level in a year. Markets are increasingly concerned about the range of risks on the horizon.

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Top 10 risks by likelihood

We reinforce our high Gulf tensions risk rating given escalating violence in the region, and raise our Global terror attack(s) risk rating to high in light of the heightened global threat. We keep our U.S.-China strategic competition risk rating at a high level amid structural tensions in the relationship. Market attention to North Korea conflict is low. These risks could have an outsized impact on markets.

Risk Description Market attention since 2019 Likelihood Our view
U.S.-China strategic competition China takes military action against Taiwan or asserts claims in the South China Sea by force. U.S.-China strategic competition chart High The U.S. and China have settled into a long-run, competitive posture. Reciprocal visits by U.S and Chinese officials are building toward a potential meeting between President Biden and President Xi in the U.S. in November. Both sides seek to stabilize the relationship, though any thaw would be fragile, in our view. Chinese actions in the South China Sea are meeting resistance by other regional actors. Taiwan remains a significant flashpoint. The U.S. is providing increased military and economic support to Taiwan, while China demonstrates a willingness to pressure the island. We do not see military action in the near term but see the risk increasing. An important milestone will be the Taiwan presidential elections in January 2024.
Major cyber attack(s) Cyber attacks cause sustained disruption to critical physical and digital infrastructure. Major cyber attack(s) chart High We see cyber attacks increasing in scope, scale and sophistication as geopolitical competition mounts. Hackers infiltrated the accounts of multiple U.S. officials this year, exposing the vulnerability of government infrastructure. We see cyber activity increasing in conflict zones and around upcoming elections, risking disruption. Technological advancements, especially in AI, could increase the risk of malicious attacks. The Biden administration is responding by calling for more regulation and raised standards for critical networks. The latest Department of Defense cyber strategy calls for a more proactive posture in defending the U.S. from foreign attacks.
Major terror attack(s) A terror attack leads to significant loss of life and commercial disruption. Major terror attack(s) chart High The global terrorism risk is rising. The Hamas attack on Israel was the deadliest in Israel since the country’s formation in 1948. The ongoing war will increase the terror threat in the region as well as in the U.S. and Europe. Al-Qaida and ISIS continue to rebuild and reestablish their global reach, increasing the risk of attacks on Western targets. New terrorist hotspots are emerging. The Sahel region is of particular concern as military takeovers have threatened the West’s efforts to fight against terrorism. In the U.S., the Biden administration has underscored the risk of domestic terrorism. We see a heightened threat given a polarized U.S. political backdrop and the 2024 presidential election.
Global technology decoupling Technology decoupling between the U.S. and China significantly accelerates in scale and scope. Global technology decoupling chart High The U.S. and China are pursuing targeted decoupling, focused especially on advanced and military-related technologies. The U.S. is executing a multi-pronged strategy to limit China’s access to key technologies and know-how. This includes export controls and a proposed mechanism to review outbound investment in advanced Chinese technologies. U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are discussing similar measures. China is pursuing a strategy of self reliance and has responded with its own export controls and bans on certain U.S. technology products. Some Chinese companies have demonstrated an ability to evade western export controls.
Russia-NATO conflict The war in Ukraine becomes protracted, raising the risk of escalation with NATO. Western financial, energy and technology sanctions on Russia continue to mount. Russia-NATO conflict chart High Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the largest, most dangerous military conflict in Europe since WWII. We do not see a diplomatic solution in the near term. Ukraine’s counter-offensive is making slow progress, and a dramatic breakthrough appears unlikely. We expect an extended war of attrition lasting into next year. Western support has proven critical to Ukraine’s success, but the issue will become increasingly politicized in the U.S. The most likely long-term outcome is a political, economic and military standoff between the West and Russia. Western allies set forth a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s security at this summer’s NATO Summit, essentially bringing Ukraine under the Western security umbrella.
Gulf tensions Regional conflict escalates, threatening energy infrastructure and increasing volatility Gulf tensions chart High The Hamas attack on Israel was the largest, most sophisticated attack on Israel since the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The ongoing war will bring significant volatility to the region. It will have a significant humanitarian impact and disrupt broader efforts to enhance cooperation between Israel and Arab States, including the U.S.-backed deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The risk of regional escalation is high, particularly if other groups like Hezbollah attack Israel or U.S. assets in the region. The U.S. has deployed significant military assets to the region to support Israel and deter other actors from entering the war. Should direct evidence emerge of Iranian involvement in the attack, we could see retaliatory action by Israel that would impact energy flows and markets.
Emerging markets political crisis Ripple effects from the Ukraine crisis severely stress EM political systems and institutions. Emerging markets political crisis chart Medium Rising oil and food prices and higher-for-longer U.S. interest rates present risks to emerging market (EM) economies. Other challenges include the slowdown in global growth, China’s sluggish economic activity and the long-term costs of fragmentation. We expect divergence in EM outcomes. Energy importers such as the Philippines and Pakistan are particularly vulnerable. Energy exporters like Saudi Arabia will likely see increased oil revenues, easing the burden on government budgets. We worry about a lack of global cooperation on debt relief. Proposed multi-lateral development bank reforms may provide additional financing opportunities for EMs, if implemented.
North Korea conflict North Korea pushes ahead with its nuclear buildup and takes provocative actions such as missile launches. North Korea conflict chart Medium North Korea’s nuclear program continues unabated. Kim Jong Un has increased provocations and called for accelerated weapons production. North Korea is also growing closer to Russia and China. We think the reciprocal visits between Russian and North Korean officials show a deepening relationship. An arms deal between the two would further raise tensions with the West. South Korea and Japan are bolstering their defenses and increasing ties with each other and with the U.S. in response. We do not see an imminent threat of regional conflict but expect tensions to worsen. We believe markets are underappreciating this risk.
Climate policy gridlock Developed economies fail to increase public investment or take action to achieve net-zero emission targets. Climate policy gridlock chart Medium The Ukraine war has brought energy security to the fore. We believe the crisis will accelerate the transition to a lower-carbon world. The energy shock is boosting decarbonization plans in Europe amid a race for clean energy leadership, as the continent responds to the U.S Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). We believe the IRA will ultimately be catalytic for increasing global investment in clean energy and accelerating the deployment of low carbon technologies. Further U.S. legislative action is unlikely in the short term. Multilateral organizations are under pressure to adopt climate finance reforms by the COP28 in November.
European fragmentation The energy crunch and inflationary pressures lead to a populist resurgence and economic volatility. European fragmentation chart Low The war in Ukraine triggered a strong impulse toward European unity. Progress has been made on reforming EU fiscal rules, with a possible deal by year end. An expected centrist and pro-EU coalition government in Poland is a positive for European unity. Immigration is reemerging as a divisive issue within and between governments, however. The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act and Chinese electric vehicle subsidies have motivated Brussels to support domestic industry in the global race for clean tech leadership. The EU is considering measures to restrict exports and investment to China, with proposals expected by the end of the year. The bloc is largely aligned on the need to de-risk from China, in our view.

Sources: BlackRock Investment Institute, with data from Refinitiv. Data as of October 2023. Notes: The “risks” column lists the 10 key geopolitical risks that we track. The “description” column defines each risk.  “Market attention” is a graphical snapshot of recent movement in the BlackRock Geopolitical Risk Indicator (BGRI) for each risk. The BGRI measures the degree of the market’s attention to each risk, as reflected in brokerage reports and financial media. See the "methodology" tab for details. The table is sorted by the “Likelihood” column which represents our fundamental assessment, based on BlackRock’s subject matter experts, of the probability that each risk will be realized – either low, medium or high – in the near term. The “our view” column represents BlackRock’s most recent view on developments related to each risk. This is not intended to be a forecast of future events or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding any funds or security in particular. Individual portfolio managers for BlackRock may have opinions and/or make investment decisions that may, in certain respects, not be consistent with the information contained herein.

Comparing market movements and attention

We have developed a market movement score for each risk that measures the degree to which asset prices have moved similarly to our risk scenarios, integrating insights from our Risk & Quantitative Analysis (RQA) team and their Market-Driven Scenario (MDS) shocks. We do this by estimating how “similar” the current market environment is to our expectation of what it would look like in the event the particular MDS was realized, also taking into account the magnitude of market moves. The far right of the horizontal axis indicates that the similarity between asset movements and what our MDS assumed is greatest; the middle of the axis means asset prices have shown little relationship to the MDS, and the far left indicates markets have behaved in the opposite way that our MDS anticipated.

Risk map
BlackRock Geopolitical market attention, market movement and likelihood

Selected scenario variables

How to gauge the potential market impact of each of our top-10 risks? We have identified three key “scenario variables” for each – or assets that we believe would be most sensitive to a realization of that risk. The chart below shows the direction of our assumed price impact.

Geopolitical risk Asset Direction of assumed price impact
U.S.-China strategic competition Taiwanese dollar Downwards arrow
Taiwanese equities Downwards arrow
China high yield Downwards arrow
Russia-NATO conflict Russian equities Downwards arrow
Russian ruble Downwards arrow
Brent crude oil Upwards arrow
Major cyber attack(s) U.S. high yield utilities Downwards arrow
U.S. dollar Upwards arrow
U.S. utilities sector Downwards arrow
Global technology decoupling Chinese yuan Downwards arrow
U.S. investment grade Downwards arrow
Asia ex-Japan electrical Downwards arrow
Gulf tensions Brent crude oil Upwards arrow
VIX volatility index Upwards arrow
U.S. high yield credit Downwards arrow
Major terror attack(s) Germany 10-year government bond Upwards arrow
Japanese yen Upwards arrow
Europe airlines sector Downwards arrow
Emerging markets political crisis Latin America consumer staples sector Upwards arrow
Emerging vs. developed equities Downwards arrow
Brazil debt Downwards arrow
North Korea conflict Japanese yen Upwards arrow
South Korean won Downwards arrow
South Korean equities Downwards arrow
Climate policy gridlock U.S. building products sector Downwards arrow
U.S. construction materials sector Downwards arrow
U.S. utilities sector Upwards arrow
European fragmentation Italy 10-year government debt Downwards arrow
EMEA hotels and leisure Downwards arrow
Russian rouble Downwards arrow

Source: BlackRock Investment Institute, with data from BlackRock’s Aladdin Portfolio Risk Tools application, July 2023. Notes: The table depicts the three assets that we see as key variables for each of our top-10 geopolitical risks – as well as the direction of the assumed shocks for each in the event of the risk materializing. The up arrow indicates a rise in prices (corresponding to a decline in yields for bonds); the down arrow indicates a fall in prices. Our analysis is based on similar historical events and current market conditions such as volatility and cross-asset correlations. See the “implied stress testing framework” section of the 2018 paper Market-Driven Scenarios: An Approach for Plausible Scenario Construction for details. For illustrative purposes only. The scenarios are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect all possible outcomes as geopolitical risks are ever-evolving. This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding any funds, strategy or security in particular.

We detail the key geopolitical events over the next year in the table below.

2023 Location Event
October 13-15 Morocco IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings
October 14 New Zealand General Election
October 20 U.S. U.S.-EU Summit
October 22 Switzerland General Election
October 22 Argentina General Election
October 26 Euro Area European Central Bank Meeting
October 26-27 Euro Area European Council Meeting
October 31 Japan Bank of Japan Meeting
TBD China CPC Central Committee Third Plenum
TBD China Politburo Quarterly Economic Policy Meeting
TBD China Belt and Road Summit
November 1 U.S. Federal Reserve Meeting
November 1-2 UK Global Summit on AI Safety
November 2 UK Bank of England Meeting
November 7 U.S. Gubernatorial Elections
November 12-18 U.S. APEC Leaders’ Summit
November 22 Netherlands General Election
November 30- December 12 UAE COP28
TBD China Politburo Meeting
December 1 G20 Brazil G20 President Begins
December 13 U.S. Federal Reserve Meeting
December 14 Euro Area European Central Bank Meeting
December 14 UK Bank of England Meeting
December 14-15 Euro Area European Council Meeting
TBD China Politburo Annual Economic Policy Meeting
TBD China Central Economic Work Conference
January 2024
January 1 G7 Italy G7 Presidency Begins
January 1 Euro Area Belgian EU Council Presidency Begins
January 13 Taiwan Presidential and Legislative Elections
January 15-19 Switzerland World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
January 23 Japan Bank of Japan Meeting
January 25 Euro Area European Central Bank Meeting
January 31 U.S. Federal Reserve Meeting


Source: BlackRock Investment Institute, August 2023. 
Note: European Central Bank meetings shown are those accompanied by press conferences. The Bank of Japan events shown are followed by the publication of the central bank’s outlook report.

How it works

The quantitative components of our geopolitical risk dashboard incorporate two different measures of risk: the first based on the market attention to risk events, the second on the market movement related to these events.

Market attention

The BlackRock Geopolitical Risk Indicator (BGRI) tracks the relative frequency of brokerage reports (via Refinitiv) and financial news stories (Dow Jones News) associated with specific geopolitical risks. We adjust for whether the sentiment in the text of articles is positive or negative, and then assign a score. This score reflects the level of market attention to each risk versus a 5-year history. We use a shorter historical window for our COVID-19 risk due to its limited age. We assign a heavier weight to brokerage reports than other media sources since we want to measure the market's attention to any particular risk, not the public’s.

Our updated methodology improves upon traditional “text mining” approaches that search articles for predetermined key words associated with each risk. Instead, we take a big data approach based on machine-learning. Huge advances in computing power now make it possible to use language models based on neural networks. These help us sift through vast data sets to estimate the relevance of every sentence in an article to the geopolitical risks we measure.

How does it work? First we “train” the language model with broad geopolitical content and articles representative of each individual risk we track. The pre-trained language model then focuses on two tasks when trawling though millions of brokerage reports and financial news stories:

  • classifying the relevance of each sentence to the individual geopolitical risk to generate an attention score,
  • classifying the sentiment of each sentence to produce a sentiment score

The attention and sentiment scores are aggregated to produce a composite geopolitical risk score. A zero score represents the average BGRI level over its history. A score of one means the BGRI level is one standard deviation above its historical average, implying above-average market attention to the risk. We weigh recent readings more heavily in calculating the average. The level of the BGRIs changes slowly over time even if market attention remains constant. This is to reflect the concept that a consistently high level of market attention eventually becomes “normal.”

Our language model helps provide more nuanced analysis of the relevance of a given article than traditional methods would allow. Example: Consider an analyst report with boilerplate language at the end listing a variety of different geopolitical risks. A simple keyword-based approach may suggest the article is more relevant than it really is; our new machine learning approach seeks to do a better job at adjusting for the context of the sentences – and determining their true relevance to the risk at hand.

Market movement

In the market movement measure, we use Market-Driven Scenarios (MDS) associated with each geopolitical risk event as a baseline for how market prices would respond to the realization of the risk event.

Our MDS framework forms the basis for our scenarios and estimates of their potential one-month impact on global assets. The first step is a precise definition of our scenarios – and well-defined catalysts (or escalation triggers) for their occurrence. We then use an econometric framework to translate the various scenario outcomes into plausible shocks to a global set of market indexes and risk factors.

The size of the shocks is calibrated by various techniques, including analysis of historical periods that resemble the risk scenario. Recent historical parallels are assigned greater weight. Some of the scenarios we envision do not have precedents – and many have only imperfect ones. This is why we integrate the views of BlackRock’s experts in geopolitical risk, portfolio management, and Risk and Quantitative Analysis into our framework. See the 2018 paper Market Driven Scenarios: An Approach for Plausible Scenario Construction for details. MDS are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect all possible outcomes as geopolitical risks are ever-evolving.

We then compile a market movement index for each risk.* This is composed of two parts:

  • Similarity: This measures how “similar” the current market environment is to our expectation of what it would look like in the event the particular MDS was realized. We focus on trailing one-month returns of the relevant MDS assets.
  • Magnitude: this measures the magnitude of the trailing one-month returns of the relevant MDS assets.

These two measures are combined to create an index that works as follows:

  • A value of 1 would means that the market has reacted in an identical way as our MDS indicated. We call this “priced in.”
  • A value of zero would indicate that the pattern of asset prices bears no resemblance at all to what the MDS for a particular risk would indicate.
  • A value of -1 would indicate that assets are moving in the opposite direction to what the MDS would indicate. Markets are effectively betting against the risk.

*This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events  or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding any funds, strategy or security in particular. The scenarios are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect all possible outcomes as geopolitical risks are ever-evolving.

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